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February 21, 2012

"Higher Crime, Fewer Charges on Indian Land"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable New York Times article discussing a not-often-noted component of the federal criminal justice system.  The piece starts this way:

Indian reservations across the United States have grappled for years with chronic rates of crime higher than all but a handful of the nation’s most violent cities.  But the Justice Department, which is responsible for prosecuting the most serious crimes on reservations, files charges in only about half of Indian Country murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases, according to new federal data.

The country’s 310 Indian reservations have violent crime rates that are more than two and a half times higher than the national average, according to data compiled by the Justice Department.  American Indian women are 10 times as likely to be murdered than other Americans.  They are raped or sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average, with more than one in three having either been raped or experienced an attempted rape.

The low rate of prosecutions for these crimes by United States attorneys, who along with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation generally have jurisdiction for the most serious crimes on reservations, has been a longstanding point of contention for tribes, who say it amounts to a second-class system of justice that encourages law breaking. Prosecutors, however, say they turn down most reservation cases because of a lack of admissible evidence.

Brendan Johnson, the United States attorney for South Dakota, said the government in recent years has deployed extra prosecutors and F.B.I. agents to Indian Country.  And the Justice Department says it is seeking to make its decisions more transparent.  Impatience on reservations is understandable, Mr. Johnson said. “If I had the rates of crime in my community that they do, I’d be mad, too,” he said.

February 21, 2012 at 02:03 PM | Permalink


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What's this? A NYT article implying that people -- especially less advantaged people -- would be better off if we had MORE prosecutions???

Lan' sakes alive! Please, gimme some smelling salts.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2012 3:58:14 PM

Just a few tidbits:

On the Onondaga Nation near Syracuse during the 'Tobacco War' of 2001, at least one volunteer fire department--besides the Nation firefighters--responded to a structure fire.

Responders of the VFD reported that a deceased victim was found tied to a chair, the obvious casualty of a rival "smoke house". The Chief didn't see it as a crime, and since it was *native*on*native* violence, no one else pursued it.

Prior to 2002, several smoke houses; today, two smoke houses.

During some summers, res dwellers will set a car on fire and subsequently open fire on responders. When I left our neighbouring town's VFD, we were ordered not to respond to calls on the res due to the danger. They have fired long guns at passing school buses in recent years as well.

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 21, 2012 4:04:28 PM

I know from personal experience that many tribes aren't dying for the feds to prosecute the drug war on tribal lands, but they do want murders and other violent crimes investigated and prosecuted. The USAs and AUSAs in most areas seem too busy. Colorado was a rare exception.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Feb 21, 2012 9:55:43 PM

Thinkaboutit --

This is an example of Political Correctness doubling back on itself. One the one hand, if the USA's go hard after tribal crime, they will be accused of applying "white man's justice," and of disrespecting the system of tribal adjudication already in place. On the other hand, if the USA's apply a hands-off policy, they'll be accused, as the NYT's article implicitly does, of not caring about tribal crime victims and leaving them to fend for themselves.

This leaves us without much of a clue about what the correct DOJ policy should be, but a big clue about the absurdity of Political Correctness.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2012 2:30:05 PM

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